Thursday, January 01, 2009

Layoff: Four Hours and Counting

I WAS LAID OFF two weeks ago today. Illness during Christmas week, and catching up with missed Christmas duties since then, kept me from detailing what I'd alluded to in the P.S. of my last post. There's not much to tell. About half of the people in my office got the immediate gate, and the rest will need to make a decision between one of two offices to begin using, because our office will completely close. In my specific case, I had the choice of following my job to Central City, as did the art staff back in April, or leaving that day. I chose the latter.

I'd seen folks clustering since the morning, chatting among themselves away from their desks, an unnatural silence filling the office such as I hadn't heard since after my last layoff. The management and HR pulled individuals into conference rooms or their offices for The Talk, but very little hard data was out there for the taking. Once I heard that one of the executives involved with my publication had been cut that morning, I knew we were all in play, and I made some effort to clean links and cookies off my computer. (I also drove home to get some end-of-year reimbursement forms so I could send them off to HR central before the end, if it was not long in coming. Faxing them off as folks were being told they were done gave my chore an unconsciously Mission: Impossible feel.)

In the early afternoon, I got the lecture. At least it came from the head of the division and not some ten-percenter sent in only to fire folks. I chose the departure option; no way was I following a job in a stumbling industry into the core of the Recession Belt. I reviewed some paperwork, got the standard info on COBRA and 401(k) follow-up, and the like. I'd gotten four months at the last place to wind down the department and settle ongoing projects. Here, I was getting four hours.

I spent the rest of the day in an adrenalized rush, excited and somewhat giddy. Fellow employees were reacting with shock, shuffling around their cubes in a funereal daze. Not me. As much as I knew that there was no job next morning, and that I was stepping out the door into the shittiest economic conditions in years, I felt, for the first time in months, filled with direction . . . even if it was out. This ought to tell you what I've left less than fully spoken in these posts: that I was feeling greatly unsatisfied with the job. I'd held back from blathering about things along these lines, or at least I think I have, because nobody wants to read about someone whining about something as basically self-inflicted as a bad job. (I'd tried reading Waiter Rant a week before the layoff, realized I'd basically be reading page after page of someone bitching about his gainful employment, in a city swarming with wait-staff positions, in one of the most fertile cities for business incubation in the country — a First World country, mind you — and decided the author could go fuck himself sideways.)

I filled my work bags and a couple of plastic bags with what little personal materiel I kept at my desk. You can tell the July departure of the art staff led me to refrain from personalizing the cube all that much. Midway through this, my managing editor called me to find out what was happening at my office. I explained to him I'd been told either I could follow my job out to his office or leave, that I had regretfully chosen the latter, and that I had through the end of the day to leave. My own boss had no idea I had been laid off. Never mind that the magazine was due to go to press in four days, or that we were down one person right now due to illness and would lose a second through the end of the production cycle due to her taking accumulated vacation time.

But that was their problem now. I told him I'd call my immediate supervisor the next day to let him know what he needed to know about my ongoing labors, bid him a sincere thanks for everything and a "see you later" rather than a "goodbye," and completed my packing. I tracked down the folks I wanted to remain in touch with, gave them one of my business cards, told them I was on LinkedIn and Facebook, and, my work there finally done, I left about a half hour before my usual quitting time.

I had plans to meet up with my friend Steve that night, and so he became the first person to get the scoop. I can't describe myself as being upset or scared by the reality of my situation. Indeed, when I arrived at Paramus Park Mall to meet him, I filled my lungs with the near-winter night air, and it felt just as invigorating as it had that morning. After dinner, I returned home and filled my parents in on the layoff, again, getting through the news with no emotion other than continued exhilaration.

The next morning, I sent a note around to everyone with the full scoop. (I'd already told Steve, and emailed Felix to tell Len, that my work email was kaput, so there was no reason to include my work address in the usual Friday e-nanigans that day.) At this point, it's probably easier to quote myself:
After visiting NJ Unemployment (if the state's former financial-industry employees have left me anything), I will start figuring out the next step, and whether it even ought to involve a boss or an office. Or even publishing in the traditional sense. It's best to entertain all possibilities. There are a lot of companies and people who need words written or edited but who don't work anywhere near publishing. And the industry is reacting to the recession like a scared turtle, cutting editorial and management jobs (the staff-based design ones began disappearing in the mid-00s) and even declining to buy new manuscripts or risk starting projects in 2009. Relying on a publishing house for the chance to develop and advance over a lifetime, or even a couple of years, no longer seems realistic. I may be better served by finding those who need my talents across a wider range of opportunities, or even just outside the areas of publishing where I've already done work (psychology, medicine, legal/tax/accounting, etc.), in both cases as a freelancer.
I ended this note by saying I planned to begin this quest after taking Christmas Week off. I hadn't had a significant break since June, and it had been a bloody long time, it seemed, since I'd seen Manhattan's holiday finery.

Circumstance would dictate otherwise. What began as a hacking cough over the course of the Monday before Christmas turned into a feverish night of restless nonsleep, and then two days of 102–103ยบ fever that climaxed with my heroic dad dragging my chill-wracked ass to my doctor. My Christmas Eve miracle turned out to be getting a last-minute appointment due to a cancellation. I hated to expose Dad (or my mom, through him) to this flu-like whateverthefuck, but by Wednesday morning I could barely talk or think due to dehydration and fever. When my temperature gets that high, I stand a serious risk of passing out while walking or trying to stand. Couldn't afford to have this happen while driving. The choice was 911 or a hand from Dad.

Fortunately, I managed to down a smoothie before the appointment, and the hydration, berries, and banana helped flood my system with nutrition and water. The doc prescribed antibiotics, and ruled out pneumonia or bronchitis. The downside was that I had to skip Christmas, my first missed one since birth.

It was on Christmas that the fever made its first clear retreat, and my thoughts began to return to the job situation. I had been given, by my friends Teresa and Dan, My So-Called Freelance Life, a guide to making the jump into self-employment, which I'd added to my Amazon Wish List after seeing author Michelle Goodman's guest post on the frequently useful — and cancelled, foolishly, by the New York TimesShifting Careers blog. Naturally, I'll be digging into that book, and Marci Alboher's blog archives, quite intently now. I still have the career-development/job hunting material from the service my last employer had provided to us after that layoff. If I'm truly going to build a freelance career, now's the time to begin researching the ups and downs.

And that, for now, is basically it. More news here on the next step as I develop a sense of what it might be. Very exciting.


India said...

Sigh. My condolences on the shitty situation, but it sounds like you're handling it with grace and poise, as usual. If I hear of any possible gigs, I'll let you know.

Schizohedron said...

Thanks, I appreciate your keeping your ears open. At this point I suspect I'm best suited to writing and editorial work; the last place barely let us do anything constructive in InCopy aside from place text and fiddle with tracking, so my InDesign skills have atrophied quite a bit. (Though at least I can say I know how to use InCopy now.)